New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday glossed over the state’s stalled measure to legalize marijuana during his state of the state address — giving no indication if he would finally sign the law approved by voters.
Speaking during a 35-minute, pre-recorded speech, Murphy conceded that approval of the historic measure hasn’t happened as fast as he wanted.
“We’re setting up a cannabis industry that will promote the growth of new small businesses, many of which will be owned by women, minorities, and veterans,” the governor said.
“This hasn’t been an easy fight, nor has it happened as quickly as I would’ve liked, but we are in a better place, a smarter place, and a more just place than ever before,” he said.
About two-thirds of Garden State voters approved a ballot measure in November to legalize recreational use of marijuana for residents 21 years old or older.
The move allows for the cultivation, distribution, and retail sale of marijuana — making New Jersey the 12th state to legalize it.
Both houses of the legislature signed off on the constitutional amendment last month.
But Murphy balked at signing the new law on Jan. 1, claiming the measure lacks language on enforcement details for underage marijuana users, according to NJ.com.
During his state of the state address, Murphy called the proposal “an innovative and groundbreaking set of laws to reform our historically unjust approach to marijuana and cannabis.”
“Two months ago you all voted overwhelmingly to legalize adult use of marijuana and begin the process of ending the racial imbalance that disproportionally penalizes black and brown people arrested for marijuana offenses,” he said.
The comments came after he said he remains “committed to eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug and property crimes,” saying the reforms are “long overdue.”
But last week, the cannabis bill’s prime sponsor, state Sen. Nick Scutari, pulled the so-called “clean-up” amendments to the bill — which would have imposed fines and other penalties on underage marijuana users — putting the brakes on the approval process, NJ.com said.
Scutari, who represents Union City, and other lawmakers from urban districts fear harsh penalties for violations could target minority youngsters in the state.
State officials said that, even when signed, it would take at least six months for state-approved dispensaries to be set up and opened, the outlet said.
When enacted, the marijuana market is expected to generate $1.8 billion in sales every year and bring in around $210 million in taxes.
Earlier Monday, Murphy said he remained “optimistic” that he would reach a deal with lawmakers to approve the bill, NJ.com said.
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